RT Book Reviews Gives Been Searching for You 4 Stars!

OMG, I am shaking right now. For an indie to get a review in RT, especially on a debut romance, is huge. If you can’t read the review, click on it and it will link to the web site.

RT Review

I hope you all agree that it’s a fun, worthwhile story when it comes out May 10. You can pre-order the ebook now here:

amazon-logo-iconbook-button-smashwords-icon  or add it to  goodreads

I’m going to pick up a copy tonight and will share a picture of the print review soon.

Saying Thank You and a Review of Daughter of Destiny

5star-shiny-webI’ve been a guest on what feels like a billion blogs in the last few weeks and I wanted to take a second to say thank you to each of the hosts for their time and for lending me their blog for a day.

And of course, thank you to everyone who has bought the book so far. I wouldn’t have a career without you! Please, tell your friends, leave reviews and hang on for several more releases in the next few months. Just think, instead of waiting a year or more for Camelot’s Queen, you only have to wait until April 12!

I also wanted to share this lovely 5-Star review of Daughter of Destiny from Reader’s Favorite:

“Reviewed by Sandra Masters for Readers’ Favorite:

Daughter of Destiny by Nicole Evelina is well written in first person, and captured my interest with a unique prologue, a simple one paragraph, that made me want to read more about a woman I thought readers of Arthurian legends knew all about. Was Guinevere a sinner or a saint — or a lovely combination of both? Evelina took a different aspect of Gwen’s life than we’ve been told from other authors. We are introduced to Gwen when she is sent to Avalon to become a pagan priestess at the age of eleven. At age fifteen, because of a tragic circumstance, she is sent back to the family who were strangers to her and the pagan faith of her mother. This faith clashes with Christianity. By chance, she is introduced to the new High King Arthur, a Christian, and her life changes forever when she has to abandon the man she truly loved for four years to marry another.

Daughter of Destiny, Book 1 of Guinevere’s Tale, is written in lyrical prose and deposits you right in the middle of medieval times. The writing is fast paced, historically correct for the era, and a page turner. I sympathized with the character whom fictional history buffs branded a lustful harlot because of circumstances that were thrust upon this intelligent, high spirited and delightful woman. Great twist at the end. Evelina’s 15 years of research are a powerful addition to a fantastic read. Can’t wait for Book Two. Prepare to embrace Guinevere. I feel privileged to have read this outstanding novel by a great writer.”

Book Review: Glass Hearts by Renee Lovins

I’ve been talking about my own books so much lately, I decided it was time to talk about someone else’s. Lucky for me, I’m on a mailing list with Renee Lovins and had the opportunity to read her new book for review.

Glass HeartsWhat’s not to love about Glass Hearts? It’s a modern-day Cinderella retelling with lots of heart and just enough sexual tension to keep you turning the pages. I read it in three days. And while that’s not a record (held by New Moon, read in less than 24 hours), it should give you an idea of how much I loved this book. When I wasn’t reading, I was thinking about the characters and when I could pick up the book again.

Ember, our heroine, is a recent college grad with a full scholarship to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Normally a risk-adverse woman, she decides to throw caution to the wind right before leaving and engage in a one-night stand with a guy she meets in a bar. The only problem is that tragedy keeps her from fulfilling her Paris dream. In a truly genius plot point, now she’s stuck with a brain-damaged-mom-turned-evil-stepmother and an ungrateful sister, both of whom she has to support with virtually no money.

Her one night stand doesn’t fair much better. Ring (also called Jordan), our Price Charming, sees his nearly completed master’s degree go up in smoke when his father dies, leaving a previously unknown legacy of debt and confusion. Ring quits school to help save his father’s floundering hotel with no idea how he’s going to get it done, only the conviction that he owes it to his dad and needs to do it on his own.

The estranged lovers meet up once again in a bakery where Ember works, cooking up some truly mouth-watering recipes (the author seriously made me hungry while reading it), and decide they need a “fail safe,” a relationship that will let them escape from their problems while not burdening the other with them. So they can hang out, have sex, and talk, but neither knows what is going on in the other’s life. I’ll leave the rest of the plot for you to uncover as you go, but trust that it involves a lot of ups and downs for Ember and Ring, a fairy godfather (of a sort the Brothers Grimm never imagined), a masked ball, and yes, a sort of glass slipper.

I truly fell in love with this book. It’s a feel-good story that defies the norms of the fairy tale (for example Ember is overweight, which is wonderful to see in a heroine) while still keeping with its spirit and giving creative nods to the iconic elements. The characters are great, the kind of people you want to be friends with.  I also loved the theme that getting what you want of out of life takes hard work and effort –nothing is just handed to you–especially since the characters are of a generation known for its acceptance of entitlement.

This five-star book makes me anxious to go back and read the author’s first book, Ink Deep, a modern twist on Beauty and the Beast.

Have you read either of Renee Lovins’ books? If so, what did you think? Are you interested in reading this one? What other fairy tale retellings have you enjoyed?

Book Review: A Man of Character by Margaret Locke

A-Man-of-Character-V7bI’m not a believer in coincidence. Even if I was, the story of how I ended up reading A Man of Character would have changed that.

I came across this book by accident when looking at a new site for romance authors and readers called Romance Debuts. I read the interview with author Margaret Locke and thought the premise  (below) sounded cute, so I downloaded it.

What would you do if you discovered the men you were dating were fictional characters you’d created long ago?

Thirty-five-year-old Catherine Schreiber has shelved love for good. Keeping her ailing bookstore afloat takes all her time, and she’s perfectly fine with that. So when several men ask her out in short order, she’s not sure what to do…especially since something about them seems eerily familiar.

A startling revelation – that these men are fictional characters she’d created and forgotten years ago – forces Cat to reevaluate her world and the people in it. Because these characters are alive. Here. Now. And most definitely in the flesh.

Her best friend, Eliza, a romance novel junkie craving her own Happily Ever After, is thrilled by the possibilities. The power to create Mr. Perfect – who could pass that up? But can a relationship be real if it’s fiction? Caught between fantasy and reality, Cat must decide which—or whom—she wants more.

Blending humor with unusual twists, including a magical manuscript, a computer scientist in shining armor, and even a Regency ball, A Man of Character tells a story not only of love, but also of the lengths we’ll go for friendship, self-discovery, and second chances.

It was only once I started reading that I realized the story sounded familiar. That’s because I had judged an early version as part of an RWA contest! (For those who don’t know, those contests are anonymous, meaning the judges don’t have the author’s name and the authors don’t know who their judges were.) I remember that I liked it, but thought it wasn’t quite ready at that point. It thrilled me to see the small changes and other improvements Margaret made in the book between when I saw it and when it was published. This is the first book I’ve judged where I’ve gotten to see the final product – a rare phenomenon.

Besides my personal connection, A Man of Character is such a fun book! It’s lighthearted (which is how I like my romance), sexy without being dirty, with just enough magic to make the never-grown-up believer in you happy, but enough reality to make your jaded adult self believe magic just could happen. There’s actually less about the big magic item than I would have expected (may I suggest a novella giving us the back story on that item and maybe even letting us read it, Ms. Locke?), but it leaves more room to focus on the romance, which is the heart of this story.

As the blurb above implies, Cat ends up with several suitors, each of whom I liked in a different way. (Okay, one of them was a jerk, but we’ve all known and wanted someone like that at some point in our past.) I found myself rooting for each one to end up with her at different points in the book. Now knowing the ending (which was A+), it’s interesting to sit back and analyze what it is that makes each man attractive and what part of me, and Cat, he was appealing to.

This book is the delicious kind of fantasy you never want to end. What girl doesn’t want to experience these dream dates Cat goes on? One made my toes curl it was so hot, and one was so perfect, I almost jumped up and down with glee. This is the kind of story you don’t want to put down and can’t wait to get back to because it touches an inner longing for that storybook story (to use a phrase associated with The Princess Bride) we’re trained as little girls to want. Actually, I think a modern-day fairy tale is the perfect way to describe it.

The supporting characters are well-rounded and relatable, especially Eliza, the romance-reading, Jane-Austen-obsessed best friend. She’s like your real friend, one who is genuinely warm, forgives you for not being able to look past your own nose, but isn’t afraid to tell it like it is when you need her to. She’s got a surprise twist in this story, one that I’m excited to learn from the excerpt at the end, we’ll get to read all about in the next book.

In short, A Man of Character is a fun read that will make you swoon, while leaving you clamoring for more. As a reader, it made me feel all the ways I hope my books will make others feel. (It reminds me a lot of my own book, Been Searching for You, but I’m biased.) I highly recommend it to fans of light contemporary romance. And Margaret, this is my second plea for you to enter it into the RITAs next year. It’s that good folks – it really could win romance writing’s highest honor. Five stars.

Have you read A Man of Character? If not, do you want to now? Are there any other books it reminds you of? I’m always looking for more books like this one and poor Margaret can only write so fast!

Book Review: Blythewood by Carol Goodman

BlythewoodWhy wasn’t this book on the top of the New York Times YA bestseller list? And how quickly can I start the second one? That’s what I wanted to scream when finished the first book in Carol Goodman’s Blythewood Tales trilogy, in a mere three days.

First, a quick recap:

Seventeen-year-old Avaline (Ava) Hall is a regular factory girl in 1911 New York until the day of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which claims the lives of 145 workers. But Ava survives, thanks to the help of a mysterious winged boy who begins to visit her in her dreams after the fire. After months in an insane asylum, thanks to someone who wasn’t happy she survived, Ava begins a new life as a student of Blythewood, which is anything but the all-girls finishing school the normal world sees. The initiated know it for what it is: the training ground in a centuries-old fight against evil – a world of strange creatures who eat mortal souls, creatures not unlike her winged savior. As Ava begins to uncover the mysteries of Blythewood, she also reveals mysteries about herself and her family – conspiracies of wild magic, charmed bells, mysterious smoke and cursed bloodlines that affect not only her world, but the events that shape modern history.

Think Harry Potter in an all-girls boarding school in the Hudson Valley, with echoes of Robin Lefevers’ His Fair Assassin series. But yet, this book is anything but a rip-off. Goodman’s intricate mythology is the number one reason to read Blythewood. While her school is much like any other single-sex institution, the ancient bent of its traditions and study give it a fresh purpose. Run of the mill courses like Latin, history and literature take on deeper meaning when they are used for magic. Archery isn’t just another form of physical education; it’s a matter of life and death. You see, in this world, what we perceive with our human eyes is only part of the story. The creatures from our children’s books and our worst nightmares live right under our noses, some fighting to protect us, others plotting our demise. Part fairy tale, part female hero’s journey, Blythewood is unlike anything else you’ve ever read.

I am a huge fan of Goodman’s adult work, particularly Arcadia Falls and The Sonnet Lover, but even after having read several of her books, she continues to impress me with her skill at creating atmosphere and painting a world which you never want to leave. I was thinking about it at work. I wore my class ring because I went to an all-girls high school (but not a boarding school) and that gave me a small connection to Blythewood. I found myself wondering what my special powers would be, if I had any, and which of the main characters/roles at the school I would be. I even debated which side of the love triangle I’m on (don’t groan; it’s an interesting one that I don’t think will resolve as simply as many other YAs have).

The only thing that itched at me the whole time I was reading was the fact that the book takes place in the early 20th century instead of the modern era, which I kept forgetting. Then I read the last 20 or so pages. Without giving anything away, I will say that Goodman connected her story to a major event in history in a way I never would have suspected. I was so excited actually cheered when I read it.

This is a book you don’t want to miss. Trust me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to reading the next book, which I can’t devour fast enough.

PS – If you like this one and want something similar in the adult realm, check out The Demon Lover, also written by Goodman, under the pen name of Juliet Dark.

Have you read Blythewood or any of Carol Goodman/Juliet Dark’s books? If so, what did you think? If not, what interests you about this book?

Top 5 Biographies of Victoria Woodhull

If you’re looking to learn more about the fascinating first female Presidential candidate in United States history (1872), there are a surprising number of biographies of Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927) – especially given that she’s not generally taught in school history textbooks.

The ones written near or within her lifetime – Victoria C. Woodhull, a Biographical Sketch by Theodore Tilton and The Terrible Siren by Emanie Sachs – are considered unreliable by modern historians for a number of reasons, so you’re better off consulting a modern biography. I’ve read most of them and here are my top 5 picks (images link to the Amazon page for the book):

Other Powers1) Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull
By Barbara Goldsmith

This is my favorite biography because it is so rich in detail, especially in regards to Victoria as a spiritualist and medium, an area many other biographies skim over, dismiss as ludicrous, or choose to omit entirely. But to understand Victoria as a person, you have to understand her belief in the spirit world and how it drove/guided her decisions. Regardless of what you believe now, Victoria and many of her peers took Spiritualism very seriously and it was an important part of their world view.

This book is also rich in other history, especially in regard to the major players of 19th century American suffrage and politics. It covers Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Catharine, Isabella and Harriett (Stowe) Beecher, Anna Dickinson and many others in detail.  I had to skip over much of that to focus on the areas concerning Victoria, but this is a book I will definitely someday give a second read so I can absorb the rest of the history.

Be forewarned that this is a large, complex book, so unless you have some knowledge of the period, it may not be the best place to start. It was one of my later sources in my research for that reason. But it is certainly worth your time.

The Woman who Ran for President2) The Woman Who Ran for President
By Lois Beachy Underhill

This is the place I recommend people new to Victoria’s life start out. It’s a well-written, easy to read, and concise biography. Honestly, it’s my go-to for fact checking because I find it to be the most reliable and easy to navigate.

There are a few things I don’t agree with the author on, such as her assertion that Victoria had an affair with Rev. Henry Ward Beecher (I don’t think that likely), and her relatively rosy portrayal of Victoria’s childhood (which is at odds with many other sources, both modern and contemporary to Victoria). But to each their own. I’m a fiction writer and she’s a biographer, so I trust she has her sources and her reasons. Still, it’s a wonderfully detailed overview that no one interested in Victoria should pass up.

If you search for this title on Amazon, it appears under two authors, Lois Beachy Underhill and Gloria Steinem. Don’t be fooled into thinking they are separate books with the same title, as I was, even though they show two different covers. Steinem wrote the introduction for the book Underhill wrote. Because of this confusion, I have an extra copy that I’m willing to give away for free. If you’re interested, let me know in the comments, leave your email address, and I’ll contact you about mailing (US only, please). First come, first served.

Scarlet Sisters3) The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age
By Myra MacPherson

This is the most fun (and by that I am in no way lessening the scholarship) biography that I read. One of the most recent contributions to the Victoria cannon, it’s written in a more novel-like format that sucks you into life as Victoria would have known it. It also provides detail that other biographies lack.

Also, as the title implies, this book gives more attention to Tennie than any other to date. This is important not only because Tennie has an important story in her own right that deserves to be told, but because knowing her better illuminates Victoria and the relationship between the sisters. Because they were close and often lived and worked together, this relationship is paramount to understanding why Victoria did the things she did.

I’ve been in touch with the author several times to ask questions and verify facts, and I have to say that she is very accessible and kind, which is always a plus. I’m actually hoping to have her as a guest on this blog in the future.


Nortorius Victoria4) Notorious Victoria: The Life of Victoria Woodhull, Uncensored
By Mary Gabriel

If you want to hear Victoria’s voice and read newspaper accounts about her, this is the source to use. Gabriel liberally quotes from Victoria’s speeches, writings and letters, as well as contemporary newspaper articles to provide color and depth unparalleled in other sources.

As someone attempting to bring Victoria to life, I found this book invaluable, both in terms of understanding her personality, but also in understanding how the political and social/cultural world around her reacted to her sometimes outrageous words and actions.

Sexual Revolution5) Victoria Woodhull’s Sexual Revolution: Political Theater and the Popular Press in Nineteenth-Century America
By Amanda Frisken

Less biography and more discourse on how the press treated women and the idea of sex in 19th century America, this is a valuable source for anyone wishing to get to know Victoria, especially in context of her often volatile relationship with the press.

One of the most interesting parts for me was to learn how she was treated in the so-called “sporting press” of gentleman’s papers. These papers, frequently read by young men, often satirized women in cartoons, depictions we would today find high offensive, but which were par for the course for the time. The images alone, many of which cannot be found online, are worth the cost of the book, but more important is the context in which Frisken places them, showing the sexist attitudes that prevailed at the time in a way most other books don’t.

There is also a section that is more biographical, so please don’t think she left that out. I just found the other parts more interesting.

Of course, these are just my personal opinions. You may have a different experience. There are a number of other good biographies and books referencing Victoria, so this is by no means a complete list. Check out my research page for more. I’m currently reading the latest, Crossing Swords: Mary Baker Eddy vs. Victoria Claflin Woodhull and the Battle for the Soul of Marriage by Cindy Peyser Safronoff. I’m not far enough into it yet to render an opinion, but will be one of my sources for my fictional account.

Victoria’s daughter, Zulu/Zula also attempted to write a biography of her mother, but was never successful. Bits of her writing can be found with Victoria’s letters in the Boston public library’s archives. I did not have a chance to see that information before writing the book, but I’m hoping to get to see it when I visit Boston next June.


And of course, the best way to get to know someone is through their own writings. There are many collections of Victoria’s books and speeches available online, as well as in book form. You can even find digitized versions of her newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, online.

What are some of your favorite biographies of famous people? Have you ever read a book about Victoria or seen reference to her? If so, where? Do you have questions about any of these books?

Guest Post: Begona Echeverria on The Hammer of Witches

HammerCoverI’m thrilled to have as my guest today author Begona Echeverria, whose book, The Hammer of Witches, is one of my favorites I’ve reviewed this year. To give you some context, here is my review, which originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Historical Novels Review

The Hammer of Witches is the story of two very different, but connected characters in a small Basque town during the witch hunt of 1610: Maria, a young girl grieving the death of her mother and struggling to assume the role of woman of the house while secretly learning to read, and Father Salvador Zabaleta, who was once in love with Maria’s mother before becoming a priest and who is now charged with guarding her safety amid an increasingly suspicious environment. As the hysteria over witches grips the village, both fall under the shadow of suspicion of the Inquisition and find their faith tested in very different ways.

This book is a gripping, pager turner of horrific historical events. While the beginning and end may seem slow in comparison to the lightning -paced middle, the entire novel is a strong portrayal of a time period in which superstition and blind faith in the edicts of the Catholic Church reigned over logic, reason and humanity. This is the first book I’ve ever read that made me feel what it must have been like to be a victim of unfounded suspicion, forced to rely on personal faith or recant all one holds true. It also shows the other side of the story, what it is like to be faced with judging guilt or innocence when the expectation of superiors and neighbors is clear.

In addition to being a riveting story, this book is important as a cultural resource in that it preserves many of the traditional stories of the Basque people about witches. It also serves as a reminder that such blind hatred is possible even today if we allow ourselves to be swayed to anger without deep thought and consideration for the humanity of all involved. Highly recommended.

Begonia is here with us today to talk about the historical and familial ties that led her to write this harrowing tale:

I am an NPR junkie. One of my favorite shows is Ira Glass’ “This American Life,” which (to quote its website) has a theme each week and tells “a variety of stories on that theme.”  Many years ago, the theme was “Reenactments,” one of which focused on the Underground Railroad: people paid to pretend to be escaped slaves who encountered actors pretending to be either slave-catchers or engineers on the Underground Railroad. The trick for the “escaped slaves” was to figure out whom to trust and from whom to flee. When interviewed before the re-enactment, participants were all bluster and bravado—they would brook no ill treatment, fight recapture, lead a “slave rebellion.” But when the “slave-catchers” ordered them to drop and give them ten push-ups to punish them for escaping (as they could not inflict any real harm) they dropped and gave them ten.

Yet, afterwards, they insisted that had the situation been real, they would have been brave: they would have brooked no ill treatment, fought recapture, led a slave rebellion.

This episode made me ponder questions that eventually led to my historical novel, The Hammer of Witches, based loosely on the persecution of Basque “witches” in 1610. That is the event in my family history most likely to have called for my bravery.  On November 8, eleven Basque “witches” were burned at the stake  — six alive, five in effigy – in front of 30,000 people.  Another eighteen were  “reconciled” with the Church after confessing to being witches but showing penitence and receiving their penance. But the confessions they made were false, as were the charges against those who burned; they included “crimes” such as concocting poisons against their enemies, participating in cannibalistic feasts and engaging in sexual escapades with the devil. While the burning itself took place in Logroño, Spain, the “witches” came from the Valley of Baztan, five miles from the French border, from which my family hails. The farmhouse where my mother grew up is within walking distance from the cave where the witches allegedly held their satanic rituals.

Yet somehow I knew almost nothing about these events. Chances are that my ancestors were involved one way or another, as victims or accomplices – or both. For my surnames are eerily similar to those on the Inquisitors’ ledgers. One infamous “witch family” was named “Arburu” – add an “a” at the end and that’s my grandmother’s surname. A priest and a monk from that family only escaped the stake at Logroño because they denied charges of witchcraft even under torture – the only proof the Spanish Inquisition would accept of innocence.  After the trial was over, vigilantes forced suspected witches who had escaped the Inquisition’s clutches to “walk the ladder” in the dead of night: they were tied between the rungs of a long ladder and forced to drag it behind them; the trailing end would be lifted up and slammed down, hurling the accused on their faces. Holding torches aloft, a crowd would parade their victims through the town, calling those they awakened to their windows to throw things on their heads.

Two of the women tortured this way were named Echeverria.

I have no way of knowing for certain if these Arburus and Echeverrias were my own ancestors; I have not been able to trace my genealogy back that far. And both surnames are quite common—Arburu means “top part of a rock or stone” and Echeverria means “new house.” But the possibility makes me wonder: what would I have done had I been among the accused? I would like to believe that I would have been brave, that I would have been able to stand up to the Inquisition and prevail. At the very least, I would like to believe that my ancestors were on the right side of this history, if they were indeed involved.

FOTOBut the converse is equally possible — that “my” people were the accusers, the cowards, the torturers. Or merely the falsely accused unable to keep up the fight. For it was almost impossible to win.  The “witches” were never told the names of their accusers so they did not know whom to trust. Their choices were to risk the stake by speaking the truth that they were not witches, or to make false confessions and “only” have their property confiscated and hope to be left alone. In the historical case, some of the “witches” walked over a hundred miles from the Baztan Valley to Logroño to recant their false confessions, explaining that they were procured through violence and threats. But the Inquisitors took this as a sign that the devil was at work and threw them into prison for months. The eleven who maintained their innocence were burned that day in Logroño, either alive or in effigy.

A high price to pay for telling the truth. Who among us is willing to pay it?

You may purchase Begonia’s book on Amazon.

If you have any questions or comments for Begonia, please leave them below. She’ll be popping by to check in from time to time.

Book Review: Map of Heaven by Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson

Map of HeavenI promised a more in-depth review of this book before I left for Sedona (which was amazing BTW), so here we go. First of all, the legalese: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Map of Heaven is on its surface the story of a Elizabeth, 34-year old woman facing her own mortality when she’s diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. This sounds depressing, but in reality the book is so much more. It is an uplifting look into the questions we all ask at some point in our lives: Why am I here? What am I meant to be doing with my life? What happens if I die without doing it?

Without giving anything away, the answer comes down to forming a relationship with God (by whatever name you call him/her/it) and using your talents for the good of others. Nothing on that road is easy, but it’s a journey we all have to take in course of living. And I believe these are lessons and thought provoking philosophical questions that will resonate with everyone, regardless of their current religious path.

This book is inspirational fiction and it helps if you are (or were at least raised) Christian due to an emphasis on the Bible and Jesus later in the book. But as I said, I don’t think you have to be to find solace in this story. The two main characters are both questioning the existence of God in the beginning of the book, so if that’s your situation, you won’t be alone. The book also contains some very interesting discussions on the intersection of science (especially quantum physics) and faith, as well as the role of faith in the modern world. While some reviewers have said they found these sections heavy and hard to read, I thought they were fascinating and they have given me much to mediate upon.

Another reviewer described it as a religious fairy tale, which is kind of true. I prefer to think of it as life with a slightly more direct God intervention than most of us usually see. (But I believe we all see God’s hand/hear his/her/it’s voice in our lives in different ways at different times.) It’s kind of like The Adjustment Bureau but with notes and dreams rather than maps of lives and Bowler hats.

I only buy hard copies of ebooks I review if they really stick with me and I believe I’m going to read them again. I knew after reading only a few pages that this one was going to change my life and immediately bought it upon finishing. I came upon the book at a critical time in my life when I was asking many of the same questions as the main character (sans brain tumor, knock on wood!) so it was like God was talking to me through it. While I don’t have any firm answers after reading it, I highly recommend it for anyone wondering about their place in this world.

 I was so touched by this book that I bought another of the author’s books, this one a 60-day devotional for meditating on how you can work with God fulfill your dreams and your purpose in life. Just as certain people came into Elizabeth’s life at just the right moment in the book, I feel like Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson came into mine just when I needed her most. I hope that if you read it, you will feel the same sense of peace and assurance as I did. And even if you don’t, it’s still a beautiful story that had me tearing up (tears of joy and recognition) in the middle of the airport!

Book Review: Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers

Mortal HeartThere aren’t enough stars in the sky to show much I loved this book (no way is five enough)! I haven’t had a book touch me so personally since reading The Mists of Avalon back in 1998.

But before I get into why this book affected me the way it did, a little explanation of the story. Mortal Heart is the third and final book in the His Fair Assassin trilogy by Robin Lafevers. The trilogy centers on a convent of nuns in medieval France who are devoted to one of the nine old gods of Brittany, Mortain, the god of death. As Death’s handmaidens they are trained to be assassins to carry out His will. This fictional setup is blended seamlessly with actual historical events of the time, namely a 13-year-old duchess’ fight to keep Brittany independent from the French.

Each book is told from a different character’s point of view, but is part of a continuing story. The first book, Grave Mercy, is told from Ismae’s point of view and is very much about politics and court intrigue. The second, Dark Triumph, is Sybella’s story, one of adventure and heart-pounding action. In Mortal Heart, Annith finally gets to tell her story, one of romance, love and faith. (If you haven’t read the rest of the series, start with Grave Mercy. You’ll be lost if you pick up with Mortal Heart.)

Throughout all of the other books, Annith has patiently waited in the convent where she was raised for her turn to be sent out to do Mortain’s work, which is her life-long dream. She’s watched Ismae and Sybella be sent out before her, even though she is the most skilled. When she finds out that the abbess has other plans for her, ones that involve her never leaving the convent, she must make a decision whether to obey the rules as she has always done, or seek Mortain’s will on her own. Her choice leads her on a journey not even the convent seeresss could have predicted, revealing long-held secrets that threaten to unravel everything she’s ever believed about herself and the convent and send her straight into the arms of Death himself.

Being a fan of love stories and fantasy, as well as someone who is fascinated by religion, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that this my favorite book of the series. It delves much more deeply into the religion and mythology of the series, placing a truly devoted nun, Annith, at the fore. As someone who used to want to be a nun (although, not the assassin kind), I deeply related to Annith. I understand what it’s like to “be in love with” your God, to want to do his will more than anything else in the world, as well as the frustration of not understanding how you’re supposed to bring this cherished dream to fruition. Add to this that the old gods are based on the Celtic pantheon (which is near and dear to my heart), and that this book deals with the intersection of the old religion and Christianity, and how the gods and mortals interact, and you have what is personally for me, a life-changing book.

But I also realize that most people won’t have this personal connection to the book. Even if you don’t relate to it on the level I do, I believe you will be moved by the themes of love, trust, faith and hope – things we all struggle with, no matter what our personal beliefs are. Mortal Heart is also very much about the lengths to which we are willing to go for those we love, and the impact of the secrets that each and every one of us carry around with us. There is something for everyone in this richly layered tale of devotion, love and adventure.

Maybe it’s because this is the final book in the trilogy, but I felt like I was much more a part of the world of this book than in the previous books. It was a joy to see Ismae, Sybella and Annith together again and learn the final resolution of the political situation I’ve been invested in since the first book. I also loved getting to see the inner workings of some of the other orders devoted to the old gods.

There is so much more I want to say about this book, but I can’t because it involves spoilers for key plot points. Please trust me on how wonderful this book is and give it, and the series, a chance. Even though it’s marketed as YA, it certainly doesn’t read like a YA book. To me it’s a wonderful historical fantasy perfect for those who love their fantasy with strong female characters, unlikely love, a bit of mystery, and a dash of danger.

Have you read any of the books in this series? Did you like them? Why or why not? Are you planning to read Mortal Heart? Does anything I’ve said about this series intrigue you? Why?